Receive Kessler-Keener Idaho Extraordinary Witness Award 2008
The Benedictine Sisters of the Monastery of St. Gertrude in Cottonwood, ID, were recipients of the Idaho Extraordinary Witness Award 2008 presented by the Kessler-Keener Lecture Series on May 1, 2008 at the Cathedral of the Rockies in Boise, ID. This award honors an individual or group in Idaho who has had a significant impact in the area of human rights, peace and justice. The recipient is recognized for living out their faith in ways that demonstrate vision and leadership in promoting inclusion and diversity, and in helping transform Idaho by their support of human rights and human dignity and care of the earth.
This recognition was presented to Prioress Clarissa Goeckner and six other sisters attending the annual Kessler-Keener Lecture Series which this year featured eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, PhD, an internationally known speaker and activist who has had a significant impact in the area of human rights and who, by living out her faith in extraordinary witness, has changed the way others see the world.
Both Joanna Macy and the Benedictine Sisters will have their names engraved as “Extraordinary Witnesses” on pavers at the Anne Frank Memorial in Boise.
In her acceptance remarks Prioress Goeckner dedicated the Extraordinary Witness Award to the community’s foundresses and pioneer sisters whom she praised as profound witnesses of “vision, courage and desire to serve” especially through education and healthcare “motivated by deep faith and characterized by great generosity.”
Conscious that she was receiving the award at the same time that the community is preparing to celebrate 100 years “at home” in Idaho in 2009, Goeckner held it like a sacred torch inspiring present and future members to live out their mission of healing hospitality, grateful simplicity and creative peacemaking. “As we seek to serve the needs of our time may our service be as faith-filled, visionary, generous and courageous as that of our foremothers.”
She invited Sister Carol Ann Wassmuth, Social Justice Office Coordinator, to highlight how the sisters’ justice, peace and healing work expresses the Benedictine Tradition. Sister Wassmuth explained that St. Benedict lived in the sixth century which was a time of violence and social upheaval much like our own. “He did not use our language but he addressed many of today’s issues,” she said. “St. Benedict did not speak about immigrants but his Rule, which is a guide for living in community, said that all strangers and guests are to be welcomed as Christ. He did not speak about ecology but said that all the goods and tools of the monastery are to be treated like the sacred vessels of the altar.”
Don and Susan Curtis of Boise nominated the Benedictine Sisters for the Idaho Extraordinary Witness Award 2008. In presenting the award Don named human dignity, social justice, peace and care for our earth as “much of what these sisters have been about for a long time.” These values emanate from their “communal processes of prayer, discernment and mutual education and learning over the past decades.”
Curtis selected five examples of the Benedictine Sisters’ witness to human rights, peace and justice.
In 1994 this “courageous group of women reflected, discerned and decided to take a public position” for the protection of civil rights of all people by opposing the controversial Anti-Gay Ballot Initiative, Proposition One. Many believe that, along with Bishop Tod Brown’s statement opposing the proposition, “the courageous example of the Sisters had an impact which probably turned the result of the initiative which failed by less than one half of one percent of the votes cast.”
In 2001 the Monastery of St. Gertrude was named as Idaho Tree Farmer of the Year for their extensive work with their own forests.
In 2002 the Cottonwood Benedictines joined other U.S. Benedictines in a formal public statement opposing any U. S. preemptive attack on Iraq, and in 2005 joined other Benedictines in a public Peace Statement for the protection of the lives of all the people of the earth.
The Historical Museum at St. Gertrude “preserves the unique cultures of natives and immigrants from North Central Idaho.” Through symposia and conferences they have initiated efforts to bring healing and reconciliation to past injustices toward Native Americans and Asian-Americans in that area.
The “Passion of the Earth” unique fabric art at their spirituality center is a clear reminder of the Sisters’ intention to continue “to educate and work for the healing of the earth through their growing retreat ministry.”
The Bottom Line according to Curtis: “These Benedictine women of Idaho and their extended support community of oblates, employees, volunteers, and other partners in ministry, live and walk their talk with values formed and informed by prayer and faith. They truly are an extraordinary witness for social justice, peace and the healing of our earth in Idaho and our Northwest region.”